It’s impossible to get through a review of Gyromancer without using the words `Puzzle` and `Quest`. So we won’t even try.
The reason for this consistent comparison is quite simple; Gyromancer’s style and gameplay instantly reminds you of the lauded Puzzle RPG fusion which commands such a large following. While Infinite Interactive’s game didn’t do anything other than combine two existing genres, it was so well crafted that it felt like an altogether new creation. This means that anything coming after it, which looks to be in a similar vein, simple can’t escape its shadow.
When taking a quick look at Gyromancer, it’s easy to dismiss it as a straightforward clone. That is until you look a bit closer and realise the pedigree working behind the scenes. Created by PopCap and Square Enix, the game is best described as Bejewelled meets Final Fantasy. And given that the puzzle aspect of Puzzle Quest took a lot of influence from (amongst other things) Bejewelled, you could say that things are starting to come full circle.
In fact, circle is a very apt term. Gyromancer’s basic gameplay involves two creatures, one belonging to the player and the other to their opponent, facing off against one other. The idea is to match three or more gems and hopefully cause a chain reaction which deals damage to your opponent, or making enough matches of the corresponding coloured gems to charge up their creatures special attack. However, the player doesn’t control one piece at a time – instead each movement requires a circle of four gems to be rotated. This means the player must be mindful of a larger area when moving and thinking ahead.
Because Gyromancer isn’t turn based, this makes the movement of the circle initially less hazardous, although later battles will penalise you heavily for frivolous spinning. Instead the player can perform as many matches as they like and an enemy will only attack when their turn counter is full.
The players creatures level up with use and as battles are won, although this is all done automatically and there are no actual skill points to be allocated. It’s this ethos of simplicity which seems to extend throughout the game in the hope of winning over those who wanted to like Puzzle Quest but craved something a bit less involved. Other examples include there only being one player character, the world map being a much simpler affair and no multiplayer modes.
With a more realistic art style and grand music that’s befitting any Square Enix title, married with PopCap’s fine talent for creating a solid puzzle game, Gyromancer is certainly worth a look. However the biggest hurdle that it initially has to clamber over is not caused by living in the shadow of any other title, but rather by its own doing. The introduction to the games mechanics is poorly though out, with even during the tutorial section of the game throwing you in the deep end. It tosses mechanics at you in an entirely confusing fashion, while the enemy AI isn’t afraid to batter you into submission at this point either. There’ll be gem combos going off, damage being dealt, and very little explanation as to the intricacies of the whys and wherefores.
During this time it’s by and large a wholly frustrating experience which will alienate a lot of people, particularly if they’re dabbling with the trial version. Anyone who settles in with the game will quickly come to learn the nuances and make sense of it all, but that doesn’t stop the opening hour being a very bumpy and painful ride if you’re one of the people who doesn’t instantly `get it`.
What remains is an interesting, if decidedly streamlined, Puzzle RPG which does enough different to warrant enticing Puzzle Quest fans to take a look, even if it’s questionable as to how long it will hold their attention. Alternatively those put off by Puzzle Quest might find the more streamlined approach that Gyromancer offers to be more up their street, providing they can stick with it past the difficult introduction.